It was hard to believe that less than a year after Leicester were crowned champions of England, Claudio Ranieri was given his marching orders by the club. In fairness, it was a disastrous start to the season for the Foxes, as they found themselves down in 17th on the weekend that the Italian was fired from the club. Leicester had won just five games in 25 outings, and an embarrassing relegation following title success could have been on the cards.
But, what played a role in such a fall from grace? The media certainly had their ideas, as they claimed that the players downed tools and held meetings with Srivaddhanaprabha about the sacking of Ranieri. The Italian later hit back at these claims and refused to blame the players that fought so aggressively for him in the title-winning season. Instead, he hinted that a possible figure in the backroom staff could have played a role.
There could have been weight behind that argument, especially considering that the man that replaced him was former assistant boss Craig Shakespeare. His arrival sparked a revival in the club, as they pulled together and won five games on the bounce to steer clear of the drop zone. However, fans were never completely on board the Shakespeare train. That meant that the following season after the club went on a run of one win in eight games, his time at the club swiftly came to an end.
If Shakespeare wasn’t popular, then the same could also be said of Claude Puel. The Frenchman managed to guide the Foxes to ninth in the 2017-18 season, but questions were always asked about his slow tactics and defensive-minded approach. It was a complete U-turn on the tactics that played such an integral role as the Foxes won the league, and the fans were pleading for his exit throughout his tenure.
Puel oversaw one of the most tragic events in Leicester’s history in 2018-19, as Srivaddhanaprabha was killed following a helicopter crash after a home draw against West Ham United. For a moment, it showed just how meaningless football is in the grand scheme of things. Puel managed to hold onto the job until the end of February, before he was replaced by Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, and a second wave of Leicester success was to follow.
There wasn’t a more integral part of the Leicester story than Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. On October 27th, 2018, the world watched on as everybody connected to the sport mourned. The historic title success, promotion to the Premier League and further FA Cup success that would follow would not have been possible had it not been for the much-loved owner.
Srivaddhanaprabha’s love affair with football started back in 1997, as he attended the League Cup final between Leicester City and Middlesbrough. Just over 13 years later and he would become the owner of the Foxes, and their history would change forever. At a time where fans demand change at the top, Leicester was a club that was united, and that was completely down to the ship that Srivaddhanaprabha had sailed. Everything that he did during his time at the King Power was done right. He brought in experience when it was needed, but also instructed that developing youth players was the way that he wanted to achieve success.
Those scenes that were beamed around the world on the Monday following the crash showed how loved the owner was. Players, fans and media representatives all paid special respect to an owner that not only revitalized a club, but also provided one of the special moments that will never be equaled.
His relationship with players wasn’t one of owner and worker, but one of friendship and respect. That was echoed in his relationship with Kasper Schmeichel, who was among the first on the scene following the crash to see whether he would help. A friendship that wasn’t anything other than professional.
The Foxes keeper and Srivaddhanaprabha would regularly talk about the team and how they are performing, and following his death, Schmeichel admitted that Srivaddhanaprabha was more of a father figure to many of the players rather than the owner. It was a testament to his character and friendship even with past employees that both Rainieri and Nigel Pearson also visited his shine at the King Power, standing side-by-side with Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt and Aimon.
Leicester’s Continued Success
When Srivaddhanaprabha arrived at the club in 2010, he revealed that Champions League football was the aim. Few people would have believed him on that promise with the club languishing in League 1. However, promotions followed by the Premier League success meant that the aim was achieved. Following his death, the players and staff vowed to get the Foxes back to the pinnacle where Srivaddhanaprabha believed that the club should be.
Rodgers’ arrival in the winter of 2019 was the beginning of the new wave of Leicester success. He brought with him a wealth of experience, both in England with Liverpool and Swansea City, and success from his time at the helm at Celtic. He was the perfect man to take on the team at this point, and guide it into the next generation.
Boasting new talent, such as James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Caglar Soyuncu, who were all brought in during the Puel-era, Rodgers was able to build a new team, with a new identity. The counter-attacking style that made them champions was no longer the way that they chose to play. Instead, Leicester would dictate the possession and create chances from wide areas and breaking down opposing defenders. For the first time, they didn’t need to rely on a sole moment of brilliance, as they had a team that could play against the best in the league and handle themselves confidently.
Champions League qualification has nearly been achieved in each of the last two seasons, but Leicester have fallen at the final hurdle on both occasions, finishing fifth. However, there is no doubt that their Champions League-chasing ability is diminishing as they will be right back in the hunt for that finish again in 2021-22.
The end to the 2020-21 season saw the Foxes win their first piece of silverware since the death of Srivaddhanaprabha, and poignantly, Schmeichel wanted to share the moment on the pitch with Aiyawatt. A first FA Cup success, courtesy of a scorcher from Tielemans, and that is just a sign of what is to come.
Players were quick to credit Srivaddhanaprabha with the win in the final, and powered by that belief and determination that Srivaddhanaprabha has installed in the team, bright moments are sure to continue in the future for this wonderful football club.